By Mushtaq Hurra
Rains, snow, sleet, icy winds, leafless flora, weaker sunshine, cloudy skies are some prominent features of winter in Kashmir. Icicles hanging from roof tops, trees and grass bails look exceedingly beautiful as if daggers are hanging in the market for sale. Snow clad mountains, plans wrapped in white cover and the trees with snow puffs are reminiscent of cotton plants which make our winter more charming. Though the trees are devoid of any greenery and leaves but the bare branches and twigs give the impression of an unimaginable beauty.
The cloudless nights harden the snow, and the morning sunrays make its surface to shine as if nature has embedded it with precious diamonds. No doubt, the winter is very harsh and chilly but it has its own charm and taste. Many people in the world visit Kashmir during winters only, to enjoy the beauties of snowfall. The warmth of embers, gas heaters, electric heaters, hamaams, blankets and quilts during winters is something unique which can be enjoyed during winters only.
Kashmiris have been facing the harshest season of the year through some indigenously invented methods. Kangri, the earthen fire-pot around which a structure is woven with special wooden wickers is one such tool which is probably found only in this part of the globe. Glowing embers and coal is put in it, and then it is kept under the long drooping woolen garment called Pheran. This outfit makes Kashmiris distinguishable and they can be recognized from a good distance in it. Both the genders prefer woolen pherans in winters while as women prefer pherans decorated with tilla ( a special embroidery work done on a lady’s Pherans) and other embroidery work on their pherans. Even many are seen wearing velvety Pherans on some special occasions like festivals and marriages.
Other woolen outfits like headgear (toup) and muffler (globand) are some other typical Kashmiri measures to face winters. Hamaam, a room which is specially designed with flat rocks as floor, keeps us warm during winters. These Hamaams were confined to mosques only, but now, these special warm floored rooms in houses are gaining momentum though it is confined to affluent families only but the middle class families too are taking care of it while constructing their houses.
Kashmiris begin their winter preparations from late summer and early autumn to face it. Eatables and other necessities are stored in abundance .Some four decades ago, people particularly villagers would weave carpets and other rugs during it. Winters have comparatively become lesser difficult than the past when people had to clear their thatched roofs of snow with the help of indigenous wooden roof rakes .But now, the advent of llabs and metallic roofs have eased it out for common people.
Winter and some foods are typically co-related. Red kidney-beans(Raajma) and home made pickles are eaten by people here during winters. Sun-dried vegetables (alhachi, runwaangan hachi) and pickle (anchaar) were some cuisines mostly preferred during winters in Kashmir.With the passage of time, the usage of sun-dried vegetables and sun dried fish has shrunk considerably. The availability of fresh vegetables and the health hazards of sun-dried vegetables have discouraged its use.
Shuh and respiratory ailments are very common during winters. Children and old people suffer a lot because the extreme chills attack them the most. Many people suffer strokes and heart attacks due to harsh cold. Hospitals are frequently visited by commoners during the coldest season of the year.
But the other face of the coin is harsher and even gloomier. Winter drains us financially as people lose their jobs due to adverse climatic conditions which adds to the already mounting tower of unemployment. The labourer class suffers immensely because construction and agricultural activities are stopped during winters. Weaker sections of the society have to face the brunt of its harshness. But the harshest truth about our winter is “power woes”. This winter, it is something unusual, unexpected and unprecedented. Upper class of our society can afford generators but common masses are suffering miserably. Though, this year, we have had abundant snowfall but the sufficient electricity supply is not assured the next winter. Two inch snow disrupts our old and decayed transmission system in seconds. Common masses are suffering miserably for different basic amenities of life.
The other agonizing part of our winters is the sedentary life style of people. People are caged in their homes and rooms which leaves them lazy and susceptible to many life style diseases, though Gym centres are seen abuzz with young people during winters as well but most of the people are forced to stay indoors as elders and women don’t prefer to visit these aerobic centres. Thus, winter takes toll of our health. We are forced to take pulses and other unhealthy foods because fresh vegetables are not produced during this season of the year, though, off late, our markets are seen full of fresh fruits and vegetables, but ironically, the poor are not in a position to taste them.
The writer is a teacher, and a social activist. He can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org